23 February 2013 – a 5 shearwater day…
Our first pelagic trip for 2013 and Trevor was once again aboard a Zest for Birds pelagic trip (co-guiding with John Graham, Barrie Rose and Cliff Dorse). The trip out into False Bay was wonderfully calm with no real wind to speak of and virtually flat seas. Birding was a little slow to begin with with just the odd Cape Gannet making an appearance, but closer to Cape Point, we started seeing our first White-chinned Petrels and Pomarine and Arctic Skuas.
Once around Cape Point, the bird numbers started to increase slightly and, as we headed further out, we started encountering the first of good numbers of Sooty and Cory’s Shearwaters along with more Skuas including a couple of Subantarctic Skuas as well as a single Sabine’s Gull. Our first albatross of the day was surprisingly an Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross which was followed not too long after it by an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross. These are the 2 less common albatrosses out of the 4 regular ones that we normally see on these trips, so it was good to “get them out of the way” first.
We picked up a trawler in the distance and started heading over towards her. As we neared her, numbers of birds started picking up again with our first Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses, Wilson’s Storm Petrels and the first of many Great Shearwaters. A fleeting Manx Shearwater was also a nice surprise for the day.
Once in her wake, we started working carefully through all the birds. Because of the calm conditions, most of the birds were just sitting on the water rather than flying around, so it made searching through all of them a little more difficult as one constantly had to move around between the various groups of birds on the water to see what was around rather than just watching what was wheeling around the boat. Nevertheless, we managed to pick out Northern and Southern Giant Petrel and European Storm Petrels whilst a handful of Long-tailed Skuas, our 4th species of Skua for the day, also created some excitement on board. It always pays to keep your eyes peeled on what is flying around you and, after a little while, both Barrie and I got on to the same bird simultaneously and the shout went out “FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATER!” This is still a rather uncommon bird in these waters and regarded as a bit of a regional rarity, so was a great one to pin down. Our 5th species of Shearwater for the day!
The remainder of the trip produced nothing new birdwise, but we continued to have good views on the way home of a number of the species already encountered earlier in the day. What was perhaps the most surprising thing of the entire day was that, even with the flat calm conditions, we didn’t encounter a single cetacean in what was perhaps ideal viewing conditions for them. Still a great day out at sea with some wonderful species seen.